There is an odd phenomenon in Canada, when it comes to legendary Canadian bands.
While some manage to earn international stardom, there’s a handful of bands that have become legends at home without ever experiencing sustained success beyond our borders. Along with the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo are often seen as the poster boys for this group. Their relationship with devoted fans has only strengthened throughout the decades, and they have become another of *our* bands.
Over the course of their 35 years together, Blue Rodeo has put out 15 studio albums, four live albums, a Greatest Hits compilation and a box set, with most releases going platinum. Their fanbase spans generations, and their devotion is witnessed at any Blue Rodeo show, like their fill-in headlining gig at last summer’s Bluesfest. That passion is why Blue Rodeo will be playing not one, but two shows at the National Arts Centre on February 23rd and 24th despite not having released an album since 2016.
We caught up with bassist and founding member Bazil Donovan between shows for a chat about their upcoming concerts, touring Canada in the winter, and Blue Rodeo’s plans for 2019. Including fresh vinyl releases and a new Jim Cuddy album, Blue Rodeo fans have plenty to look forward to in 2019, starting when the boys shake off the winter doldrums—theirs and ours—with a pair of shows at the NAC.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: I remember seeing Blue Rodeo in a small town in the dead of winter as an up and coming band, promoting Diamond Mine. Nowadays, as Hall of Famers, you don’t need to put yourselves through that grind anymore. Yet here you are, in the midst of a four-show jaunt across the Atlantic provinces before hitting Ottawa in February. Why put yourselves through that?
Bazil Donovan: Touring makes the winter go by faster. The winters I spent holed up at home… it was driving me crazy! So I’d rather go out on the road.
We aren’t too scared of it. Touring in the winter in Canada isn’t that hard on us. There was a time I might have been a bit worried when we’d be driving from Cranbrook to Nelson down treacherous roads, but, now we stick to the Trans Canada Highway and just hit the major centres along the way.
We get good turnouts for festivals in the summer for sure, but there’s something special about touring Canada in the winter.
Fans also appreciate it. There isn’t much else to do, so when we show up, they’re excited to finally get out of the house and enjoy some entertainment. In the summer, people are out of town, out at the cottage, they have other stuff happening, and it isn’t as fun sitting indoors in an arena or a theatre. We get good turnouts for festivals in the summer for sure, but there’s something special about touring Canada in the winter.
Given your last album was released in 2016, you guys aren’t promoting anything in particular at this point, so what kind of show can we expect? Will the setlist be heavier on the latest album [2016’s 1000 Arms] or is it more of a ‘best of’ mix?
We’re just playing a mix of stuff, depending what we want to play on any given night. We’re not doing the whole ‘we’re going to play everything from the new album’ kind of show. Lately we’ve been playing five or six older songs that we haven’t done in a long time, and it’s been fun re-learning them and giving them a new twist. But at our age, we really do have to re-learn them!
We’ve been playing “Piranha Pool” [from 1987’s debut album Outskirts] lately, which we haven’t played in over ten years. Greg [Keelor, lead singer] sometimes struggles remembering all the words. We did “Side of the Road” in our last three shows, and Greg only got the words right once! He’d look at us for help, but the fans were all singing it, they know the words, they’re shouting them out to him. But we eventually find our groove and everything falls back into place.
As I mentioned, your last release was 2016. Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy both put out solo albums in 2018, so what’s on tap for 2019? Will we be seeing a new Blue Rodeo album?
The boys [songwriters Greg and Jim] have a bunch of songs written already, but we probably won’t be starting to record until this fall. We’ve got a bunch of festival dates over the summer, but after those, we’ll probably get rehearsing and recording, so a new album probably won’t happen until 2020.
Are there any other releases planned in 2019 in the meantime? Given the trend these days of issuing deluxe reissues for key album anniversaries, any chance we might see a 30th anniversary edition of Diamond Mine released?
The label has told us that they’re aiming to release another batch of our albums that were never released on vinyl, like Tremolo, so those might be coming out this year. And Jim recorded another solo album last fall, and the plan is for that album to come out this year, so it doesn’t interfere with the next Blue Rodeo record.
Blue Rodeo will be performing in Southam Hall at the National Arts Centre (1 Elgin St.) on Saturday Feb. 23 and Sunday Feb. 24, with Erin Costello opening the shows at 8pm. Tickets cost $62–124 online and at the NAC Box Office. Saturday tickets are scarce, but a few remain for Sunday.